Essential oils – typically distilled from aromatic plants like lavender, lemon, peppermint, bergamot and eucalyptus – have been around for centuries. Ancient Egyptians used them for embalming and mummification. Medical icon Hippocrates supposedly advised patients in ancient Greece “healing begins with an aromatic bath and daily massage,” and contemporary proponents believe essential oils relieve ailments that range from headaches to insomnia.
Phoenixville’s Kate Fossner, stage manager at People’s Light theater in Malvern, began sharing her go-to oils with exhausted fellow thespians to help them relax and re-energize during particularly stressful productions.
“We’d been doing our Pantos, a Christmas show which can be pretty grueling…with a pretty hectic schedule,” Fossner recalls. “I had discovered essential oils through my acupuncturist and started doing my own research to learn more about them. I knew how much they helped me, so when our actors were feeling sick or extra tired during Pantos season, I’d mix up an oil blend to help them feel better.”
Happily, those blends did exactly that, and – buoyed by her colleagues’ collective thumbs-up and her own growing knowledge base – Fossner slowly created an assortment of all-natural home and body products. In a nod to its and her theatrical roots, the line evolved into a private label called The Backstage Apothecary, currently available online and Saturdays at the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market.
The brand features handmade body butter, roll-ons, sprays and mists, bar soap, foaming hand soap, salt scrubs, wellness blends and beard oils…each, a simple fusion of fragrant, chemical-free ingredients.
According to Fossner, olfactory honest underpins the collection.
“You’re actually smelling the peel of an orange or lavender,” she says. “I want people to know exactly where each of these (products) came from, so I don’t use any chemical additives or preservatives. I don’t want people to looking at a label and wondering what really went into making what’s inside the bottle.”
So far, response has been positive although Fossner says she’s not looking to make a financial killing or retire her Actors’ Equity Association resume anytime soon.
“At first, it was basically just friends and theater connections,” she says. “I created the website in 2018, right before Christmas, so being around the holidays helped sales. This is really something I’m doing for fun…and because it’s something I really believe in. I joined the farmers’ market this year, so that’s allowed me to reach different people. And the farmers’ market community has been great…very supportive.”
There was one glitch along the way – a respiratory virus that coincided with the birth of daughter Liza in 2015 and decimated Fossner’s sense of smell for five years.
“I got it back last year, which was ironic given that it was right about the time that so many people were losing their sense of smell from COVID,” she says. “Mine came back little by little and actually came and went over the course of one year. So I was still making blends, but I was doing that with a lot of help from the cast members at People’s Light and my wife, Lily.
“Even with that, it’s…been very satisfying. I’ve always loved helping people, making them feel better even if it’s in some small way – helping them sleep better or even just bringing a smile to their face when they wash their hands. The simple pleasures.”
Backstage Apothecary items, including Lily Fossner’s pure cotton face masks, can be ordered at www.backstageapothecary.com or purchased in person at the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market, located at 200 Mill Street, under the Gay Street Bridge along the French Creek Trail, Saturdays between 10 a.m. and noon. The weekly market also features local farmers and artisan food producers, craftsmen, artists and providers of other sustainable products and services. Additional details are posted at www.phoenixvillefarmersmarket.org.